Many women find that they need additional nutritional support i.e. tryptophan for serotonin support (and often GABA too) around their periods. Today’s case study highlights the hormonal shifts that may lead to a situation where it appears tryptophan doesn’t work, then it does work, and then sometimes it doesn’t work as expected. The variable results and the need to switch between lower and higher doses on an ongoing basis can occur with PMS (premenstrual syndrome) PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder, a severe, sometimes disabling extension of premenstrual syndrome). The variable results can also be more pronounced while recovering from trauma.
This case study is a follow-on from a blog I recently published: Tryptophan doesn’t work, then it does and then it doesn’t: could it be hormonal shifts, dietary factors and/or parasites?
Here is Kimberley’s feedback on the Facebook post that discussed these variable results. She shared how her hormonal shifts led to a need for additional tryptophan and 5-HTP:
Around my period I definitely feel the need for extra tryptophan. My PMDD symptoms have decreased since I started using tryptophan/5-HTP, but sometimes I need a bit more if I’ve had some extra heavy emotional stuff come up that I need to process (since that always happens with my period!).
I thanked her for sharing and said how happy I was for her. I also asked what symptoms have decreased and how much? I also asked how much tryptophan and 5-HTP she uses before her period and then around her period?
I was also curious if she just experimented with different doses until she figured it out or had she heard me talk about the PMDD tryptophan study: A placebo-controlled clinical trial of L-tryptophan in premenstrual dysphoria. In this study tryptophan was found to reduce symptoms of PMS when used in the luteal phase or second half of the cycle (i.e. after ovulation).
Her low serotonin symptoms have decreased as much as 75-80 percent
Kimberley confirmed that she had read the above study and related blog post – Tryptophan for PMS: premenstrual dysphoria, mood swings, tension, and irritability – and more about her symptoms:
I had read the blog you referenced, which is one of the reasons I tried tryptophan in the first place.
I was experiencing a lot of emotional distress, feelings of downright despair that left me miserable both during my period and ovulation (half the month, every month, which was truly awful). Those have definitely decreased, sometimes as much as 75-80 percent, other times they’re worse and I feel like I need more support.
I usually take 1x Lidtke 5-HTP (50mg) mid-afternoon and 1x Lidtke Tryptophan (500mg) at bedtime, but yesterday I increased to 2x Lidtke Tryptophan and do feel an improvement in my mood this morning.
I experimented to get the right dose of both amino acids, initially increasing to the maximum you recommend, and then slowly decreasing to what I’m taking now when I found I didn’t feel well when I took too much.
I just reread the blog you linked above and realized I should be using GABA every day to support progesterone (instead of just as needed for anxiety). Thanks for the reminder!
I love that after reading the blog she was inspired and motivated to experiment with different doses when she is/was feeling so bad. I encouraged her to continue trialing different doses at various times of the month especially in the second half of the month. I also reminded her that some folks do better with tryptophan and some do better with 5-HTP when it comes to low serotonin symptoms. And to continue to look at why serotonin is low and address that. Low GABA (related to low progesterone) can cause increased anxiety at this time and is a common issue with PMS/PMDD.
(You can see the entire list of low serotonin and low GABA symptoms here.)
She plans to continue experimenting with tryptophan and 5-HTP and may also try switching over to just 5-HTP and see if that changes anything. It’s unlikely that she would benefit from much higher doses of either as she shared “I don’t seem to be able to take more than 2 caps of either one without getting uncomfortable symptoms, though.”
Exercise and yoga for her low serotonin and PMDD
She did share how much exercise helps her mood, why she isn’t able to exercise as much:
The biggest thing I know to do to address low serotonin is add more exercise into my life, but this has been hard lately because I’ve had a couple of different viruses recently that left my exercise intolerance worse than it had been. I’m trying to support my mitochondria right now and add light exercise back in slowly.
Exercise is a wonderful way to raise serotonin levels and aerobic exercise has been shown to reduce the symptoms of PMS too. Yoga may be an option while she is recovering. In one study, yoga was found to be beneficial for PMS: “Alpha-brain waves production due to regular yoga practice are directly related with state of peace, creativity, mood elevation, relaxation, and release of serotonin, thus leading yoga practitioners feel more relaxed.”
Trauma: cortisol, serotonin, dopamine and estradiol
Kimberley also shared how how trauma plays into her situation:
I think some of the reasons for my health issues, low neurotransmitters, etc., are trauma related and I’ve been working through Dr. Aimie Apigian’s programs for that. But that’s another story.
I respect Dr. Aimie Apigian’s work in trauma and somatic experiencing and acknowledge this aspect must be addressed too. I love that Dr. Aimie brings this together with a functional medicine approach, looking at biology/biochemistry too. Recent trauma research confirms that there are major biochemical mechanisms involved in PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). These can include impacts to cortisol, serotonin and dopamine levels. And women are more vulnerable to these effects.
A 2021 paper, Estradiol, stress reactivity, and daily affective experiences in trauma-exposed women discusses high cortisol and more severe symptoms around their periods when estradiol (one of the estrogens) is low. As I mentioned above, estrogen and serotonin are closely related. The authors state this:“For women who are cycling, it may be useful to understand how the menstrual cycle affects their symptoms. When you can explain what’s happening biologically, it often becomes less threatening.”
Yoga may provide added psychological benefits as she works through her past trauma too.
Kimberly gave me permission to share her story and this is always something I appreciate so others in my community can learn from these types of experiences. If needed, I hope this her story gives you confidence to experiment with different doses and combinations around your period.
She also benefits from the comments from others on Facebook and the comments here on the blog, our back and forth, and this blog post.
She promised to keep me posted on how she goes and I’ll be sure to share when I hear back from her.
Resources if you are new to using tryptophan, 5-HTP and GABA and the amino acids as supplements
If you are new to using the amino acids as supplements, here is the Amino Acids Mood Questionnaire from The Antianxiety Food Solution (you can see the low GABA symptoms here) and a brief overview here, Anxiety and targeted individual amino acid supplements: a summary.
If you suspect low GABA or low levels of any of the neurotransmitters and do not yet have my book, The Antianxiety Food Solution – How the Foods You Eat Can Help You Calm Your Anxious Mind, Improve Your Mood, and End Cravings, I highly recommend getting it and reading it before jumping in and using amino acids so you are knowledgeable. And be sure to share it with the team you or your loved one is working with.
The book doesn’t include product names (per the publisher’s request) so this blog, The Antianxiety Food Solution Amino Acid and Pyroluria Supplements, lists the amino acid products that I use with my individual clients and those in my group programs.
Have you found you need additional tryptophan/5-HTP or GABA around your period? How have you experimented and how does it help you?
If you’re a practitioner, have you seen this with clients or patients?
Do you also feel better with exercise and/or yoga?
And are/were your variable results more pronounced while recovering from trauma?
Feel free to ask your questions here too.